Education is regarded as a right and not a privilege. Every citizen is guaranteed a right to basic education provided free of cost by the state. In fact it is compulsory for parents and guardians to send their children to school, failing which they could be hauled before the courts.
Guyana has a relatively high enrolment rate at the primary and nursery levels compared to other countries in our hemisphere. It is fair to say that access to education at the primary and nursery level is reasonably good, even though some serious challenges still remain in the hinterland and deep riverain areas. Under the previous PPP/C administration, substantial progress was made in terms of education access in hinterland areas, especially at the secondary level. Several new secondary schools were constructed in several hinterland communities where none existed before, such as Annai, Aishalton and Sand Creek in Region Nine, and for that matter in all of the ten administrative regions of the country. It is no exaggeration to say that the PPP/C administration had overhauled the entire education infrastructure of the country. Emphasis was put not only on infrastructural development but in other critical areas such as teacher training, curriculum reform and in the area of measurement and testing.
Despite the best efforts, there were still significant gaps in terms of the quality of education delivery between urban and rural public schools on the one hand, and between hinterland and coastal schools. The gap in educational delivery was all the more apparent between public and private schools which eventually gave rise to a plethora of private schools, some of which were more interested in making money rather than in any meaningful way addressing the deficit in quality delivery by public schools.
It is in the above context that the desire for parents and guardians to send their children to private schools has to be seen. The perception that ‘fee’ education was superior to ‘free’ education’ increasingly gained currency, especially among those who could afford to pay the fees demanded by private educational institutions.
To a large extent, the continuing failure of the government to arrest the decline in student attainment levels in the public schools, especially at the primary and secondary levels has only served to perpetuate this perception that the chances of children making it to the top of the performance ladder can only be achieved through private schools. This is unfortunate, but a reality that cannot be wished away by officialdom. The truth is that the majority of the top performers at both the CXC and the Grade Six Assessments, formerly Common Entrance Examination, come from the public schools even though it has to be admitted that some of the private schools are outperforming some of the top public secondary schools. Education is becoming much more competitive. Our children are grilled to pass examinations which sadly takes away from the real purpose of education which is to develop rounded personalities. Too much emphasis is placed on cognitive development at the expense of the other domains of development, inclusive of affective and physical.
My own view is that the government has a duty to create a level playing field when it comes to education delivery, which should be done not by punishing private schools through the imposition of Value Added Taxes (VAT) but by pumping more resources into public schools and ensuring through the school inspectorate system that all public schools measure up to the required standards. Low performing schools should be brought up to standard, even if it means a change in school administration. It cannot be business as usual when schools continue to underperform. That would be a great injustice to our children and their parents who have high expectations of their children to have those expectations realized.
I am all for education to remain secular in keeping with the Constitution of Guyana. I do not suscribe to the view that the future of any child in the realization of his or her learning potential should depend on parents earning capacity, but on their innate ability and potential. Education should be the vehicle for upward social mobility and it is the responsibility of the state to have a well-oiled vehicle to take every child to that destiny.
The application of VAT on education is in my view counterproductive and should be reconsidered. In any event, the amount of money accrued to the treasury is insignificant given the size of our national budget. It simply is not worth the fight.